Being the over prepared, slightly obsessive type when it comes to having my wits about me and being a generally feisty young woman I tend to jump in first and ask on the way down. I don’t believe this to be a bad thing. Last night whilst attempting to fill up at the petrol station I was approached by a man who was intimidating, unnerving and far too close for comfort there were others there but nobody stepped in to help. Today I wanted to talk about my reasons for reporting it, why I waited nearly 12 hrs to do so and why I was pretty disgusted in the reactions of others and myself at the time, hind sight being the wonderful thing that it is.
So what actually happened?
After a joyous trip to Ikea with a friend I called into the ‘large supermarket chain’ petrol station between 9 and 10 pm. 4 cars on the forecourt (only two out of about 12 pumps working!). Car number 1 had a man I’d say between 25-35 years old. Car 2 had a woman same sort of age bracket. Car three had a young guy I’d put him in his 20’s and car four which had me and my buddy in it (carpool karaoke-ing to Little Mix…as you do on a normal Tuesday night right?).
To get my story into context you don’t need to worry about cars 1 and 3. The lady in Car 2 however was the first to get my attention as she was manoeuvring her car (rather unsuccessfully) closer to the pump. A man stood to the side of her car but a little further back, from where I was you could easily have mistaken them for being together. The lady got out of her car, walked round to the pump and then quick as a flash was jumping back into the car pulling off having not filled up. Was this weird? No. I wasn’t paying attention, there were several pumps corded off as ‘out-of-order’ I assumed this was the same. Car 1 pulled off too.
After brief discussion with my friend we decided to give the pump a try. I pulled in on the right and car three pulled in on the otherside of the same pump. This was when it happened. The man said something to me, I couldn’t hear but smiled politely and said no thank you (I assumed he was asking for change or something). He came closer until he was standing right in front of me at the boot of my car. My purse and customer loyalty card being in the boot mean that I wanted to get into my handbag but this man was too close for comfort and survival tactics had kicked in to alert me that opening said boot wouldn’t be the best move. He had a pre-printed card in his hands. I have no idea what I said (the sort of bullshit begging card they wave in your face in holiday resorts with some sad made up story about children with missing limbs or dying in need of medical assistance). Forcefully and for the last time (possibly 4th each louder than the previous) I said “NO” and he got the message before walking away to another man standing in the darkness watching from the other side of the petrol station.
Filling up the car I’ve never felt so uncomfortable. Thankfully my card was in my phone case so I didn’t need access to my boot and the transaction passed through rather effortlessly. Jumping back into the car and locking the doors Car number 5 pulled up. This car had two Indian women in, one about my age one much much older. As I pulled away I saw the man walking back across to the petrol station.
Why am I going on about it now?
After a pretty crap night of very little sleep and a discussion with my parents I reported the man to the superstore first thing this morning. In hind sight, and you reading this now will (hopefully) pick up on some huge flags that suggests I should have reported it there and then last night but I wanted to share with you my thought process.
– Who do you report it to? Police? Security? Nobody committed an actual crime. Nothing actually happened.
– What do you report? ‘A man was acting a bit weird’ that’s not going to seem very important to anyone in a professional stance.
– Why did he only approach the women? 3 out of the 5 cars on the forecourt where women, he only approached them even when men were on the court nearby. If I was in need of help I’d feel more comfortable approaching a women and after a discussion with my dad he said as a man he would be more likely to approach a man in that situation.
– Why didn’t I see he had intimidated the other woman in car 1?
– Why did the two other men at the station not assist or ask what was going on? Why did nobody help when they heard me say NO at varying volumes?
– What would have happened if there had only been me?
Then we get on to the ‘what ifs’:
– What if he was genuinely in trouble and I didn’t help?
– What if he went on to attack someone who wasn’t as strict as I was?
– What if he carjacked someone or robbed them?
– What if I let any of this happen when I could have stopped it there and then by going into the store?
By not reporting it there and then I could have let any number of things happen last night. Hence this morning’s phone call.
Here’s the sad part, I reported the incident at 0830 this morning. No other report had been made. I know for a fact 4 other cars were there and 3 other women where approached. I don’t know how many he approached before I got there or how many after. I don’t know who the man with him was or if there was anyone else there. I don’t know what he was asking/saying to me. In that 30 second encounter I was petrified. So those other women would be too no doubt but nobody reported anything.
Right now I can’t comprehend the feelings other women have gone through who have been attacked. I have never been in that situation before, arguably last night wasn’t even a ‘situation’ but the ‘what ifs’ are deafening and that is why I’m writing about it. I can’t answer my ‘what if’ questions and because of that I couldn’t control the situation I was put in but by not reporting it I was failing other women with the situations I could control the big one being: if nobody reports it, it will happen again. You can’t blame Mr Security for something that happened at the unmanned petrol station if they don’t know something is happening. You can’t stop women being attacked or people being robbed if you don’t come forward and tell someone it happened. If a tree falls in the middle of the forest and nobody hears it did it make a sound?
I can’t turn a blind eye to this. I won’t turn a blind eye to this. I should have seen the lady in car 1 was scared. I should have stayed to help the lady in car 5. I should have reported it there and then. I could have alerted someone to the situation there and then but I didn’t and I’m actually pretty ashamed at myself for that. To quote the greats Beverley Knight ‘shoulda, woulda, coulda means I’m out of time’ but if I’ve learnt anything it’s that we need to stand together and support strangers in the street, women need to stand by women. We might not know what we are walking in to but it sure as hell beats being approached in the dark by a man speaking a language you don’t know who won’t get out of your personal space – that’s not right. I urge you, men, women, children, if you see something that’s not right. Report it. It could be nothing or it could save someone unimaginable troubles.
My top tips in a situation like this:
- Have your wits about you. Look around the area, take note of who is near you especially when it is dark.
- No means No. A rule everyone needs to learn and use. Stand by your response. No means NO.
- As soon as you get into the car lock the doors. If you do it often enough it will become habit I promise.
- If you see it, report it. Even if it’s nothing.
I walked (well in my case – drove) away unscathed and simply confused but I know it’s going to take me a long time to let go of the ‘what ifs’. Who is to say the next lady he approaches isn’t as lucky.
See it. Report it. Stop it.